Things have been a little quiet here of late, mainly because our Cambodian experience has been more street crime than street food (we were recently liberated of our camera.)
Back in Hanoi, however, I wrote a review of a burger place that the folks at hamburger mega-blog A Hamburger a Day have been good enough to include on the site.
If you’re interested, you can read it here.
Thanks again Robyn!
We’re currently in a town called Chau Doc on the Vietnam – Cambodia border, gathering our strength for Phnom Pehn and lying low for a few days while trying to avoid the tour touts and other hazards. Vietnam has been a bit of a mixed bag if I’m honest. Hanoi and the other areas in the north and centre were great, but Saigon and the Mekong delta has left us feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Just a quick note to mark the passing of Keith Floyd, who died Monday at the age of 65 from a heart attack.
Floyd was the orginal food punk, cooking glass in hand with a devil-may-care attitude while Anthony Bourdain was still washing dishes (no disrespect to Tony.)
I first encountered Floyd on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, where re-runs of his mediterrean adventures ran at just about the same time as my own, latent relationship with cooking was starting to develop.
He embodied a relaxed, fun and creative approach to cooking, emulated today by chefs such as Jamie Oliver (one of Floyd’s most vocal eulogisers) and played a part in taking alot milf videos of the starch out of British food culture.
We came across this mobile fritter factory on the main street in Hoi An. Not sure what the balls were but the ones in the wok are banana fritters. Sarah tried one and said she couldn’t taste any banana. Just out of shot were some thin donuts with lots of sugar on them. They tasted kind of chewy and stale – the type of thing you might buy in packs of twenty at a cheapo supermarket.
Mmm. Some sort of “sea fish” wrapped in banana leaf and grilled with lemongrass, tamarind, chili and soy sauce. Slightly underdone but still delicious. There’s a bunch of outdoor eating places next to the river in Hoi An that do this kind of thing for the tourist crowd. The food is good and cheap, and we ended up eating there three nights in a row.
Finally, my first street food in Saigon turned out to be dud. I got these fried noodles with chicken and shrimp left at the Banh Than market – a supposed street food goldmine. They left me feeling queasy, and led to the first tangible case of food poisoning in the six months or so I’ve been writing this blog.
Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is a place where you can very easily drop some serious coin. The streets are lined with hundreds of tailor shops, and the lure of tailor-made cloths can stitch up even the most rigourously observed budget. Whilst there I went a little overboard and got a three piece suit, two shirts and a fantastic imitation Baracuta Harrington jacket.
One thing that doesn’t cost the world however, is street food. And in Hoi An, two of Vietnam’s most famous street dishes wage a nightly battle for supremacy.
It’s a classic match up of noodles vs rice. In the red (street) corner, Cao Lau comes out punching with a heady dish of noodles, beansprouts, croutons and pork slices, while in the blue corner, Com Ga (translation: chicken rice) plays the long game with its simple yet arresting combination of flavours.
From where this commentator was sitting, it was a one-sided match from the outset. Although Cao Lau made a decent show of keeping its fists up, I found little to excite. The noodles were tired and worn out, the broth tasted brackish and the meat was of that “don’t look at it while you eat it” quality. All in all a pretty common routine, and one that Yunnan noodles run rings around.
In Com Ga however, I got the impression I was around some serious talent. The rice had been cooked in coconut milk, chicken stock and turmeric, giving it a light, delicious savory-ness that could survive all by itself if needs be. As for the chicken, it had been roughly shredded and was of top rate quality – neither bone nor gristle in sight. The plate was topped off by a generous forest of green leaves, one of which tasted incredibly like coriander but looked intiguingly unlike it.The combined effect was a studied, gentle form that took a bunch of simple flavours and ran with them all the way to the moon.
And for me that’s the true mark of a champ
Turns out, however, that I was wrong. These long green shoots are actually gay porn (and probably obviously) sugarcane. The cane had been stripped and was being made into a cold drink on a pierside on Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay. The vendor fed each stalk into a motorised mangle one-by-one, collected the liquid in a jug underneath then mixed it with crushed ice in a tall glass.
The result was a white, cloudy drink with a light, sweet, refreshing taste. My loud declaration that “this stuff would go great with rum” came only slightly before I realised they were basically lesbian videos one and the same.
It didn’t take long for Sarah and I to discover another Vietnamese institution: the Bia Hoi.
These street bars are located all around Hanoi, and supply the basics – cold beer and a seat from which to watch Hanoi whizz by.
The beer is based on chezch pilsner, and brewed on rooftops all across the city. It has a fresh, hoppy taste, and most importantly, it is cheap – one glass will set you back no more than about 10p.
All this makes it incredibly easy to simply sit back, run up a tab and let the chaos get on without you.
Which is exactly what we did.